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Indonesia: Accused Terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir Files Appeal - 2003-12-19


An Indonesian cleric accused of leading a regional terrorist organization has filed an appeal against a conviction for forgery and immigration violations.

The case of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has divided local and international opinion like no other. Many believe Bashir is the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror group linked to the al-Qaida network.

In September, Bashir was convicted of treason for trying to overthrow the government. He was also found guilty of forgery and immigration violations, and sentenced to four years.

Earlier this month, a superior court overturned the treason verdict on a technicality, but upheld the convictions for forgery and immigration violations.

Neither side was happy with the verdict. The prosecution has already appealed, and, on Friday, Bashir's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the forgery and immigration convictions.

Wirawan Adnan is Bashir's lawyer. He believes his client has been given an unduly harsh sentence for the crimes for which he now stands convicted.

"Because he is Abu Bakar Bashir, because the foreign governments believe he is the head of Jemaah Islamiyah, but they cannot prove it, so they are trying to find anything to justify the sentence," he said.

Foreign countries have expressed their disappointment with the perceived leniency in the treatment of Bashir, saying it calls into question the country's commitment to going after the kingpins of terrorism. This argument has been strengthened by the government's recent decision not to ask the United Nations to classify Jemaah Islamiyah as a terrorist organization.

But the country has had some striking successes against the organization and its members. Three of the Bali bombers are now on death row and another is serving life, and the police recently announced the detention of a group of students who were deported to Indonesia after being arrested in Pakistan.

Among the four students is Rusman Gunawan, more commonly known as "Gun Gun," the younger brother of the militant known as Hambali.

Hambali, who is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location, is the alleged operational chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, and a man whom President Bush once described as "one of the world's most lethal terrorists."

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